Throughout the Giro d’Italia, VeloNews will be talking to some of the unsung heroes in the peloton – those riders that battle on each day without the recognition the major GC favorites or sprint stars receive.
Home is where the heart is for Mark Christian – even if that does mean facing down some of the foulest conditions.
These days, most professional riders make the warmer climes of Girona, Andorra or Nice their home to utilize the better weather and nearby mountains for training.
Christian — who is riding the Giro d’Italia for ProTeam Eolo-Kometa, the team run by Alberto Contador – is one of a small number of professionals to base themselves on the wet and windswept Isle of Man, including Ben Swift and Chris Lawless. Even Mark Cavendish has been spending more time on the small island in recent times.
While there might be more sun and less wind in Southern Europe, Manx-born Christian has everything he needs on ‘the rock’.
“I’ve always found it a good form-builder when I’m training at home and I respond well after it. It’s definitely a hard place to ride,” Christian told VeloNews. “It’s also got a little bit of everything with the flat roads and lumpy, short and steep climbs and the longer ones.
“The only thing that is missing is the big climbs, but even the mountain road (the main road connecting the north and east of the island, and part of the famous TT Course – ed) is 20 minutes or so, so it’s long enough.
“People rush to go somewhere like Girona because it’s better weather or better training but, in terms of the training, it’s probably not much different. It’s also a bit of normality. To be able to go to a training camp and just go home and get away from the cycling world and switch off from it is great.”
Getting back to the Isle of Man during the coronavirus pandemic has proved difficult due to the island’s strict quarantine policy. Up until recently, anyone entering the island has had to self-isolate for at least two weeks.
Only recently was that relaxed to allow people traveling from the United Kingdom to spend just a week in isolation. It means Christian has been something of a nomad, unable to go home since the start of the season.
“It’s quite difficult to go back at the moment because of the isolation rules so I have been just sticking it out between races,” he said. “Thankfully, things are easing a bit now so that by the end of the Giro it’ll only be one week of isolation. I’ll definitely be going back to the Isle of Man and I’ll be eager to get back by then.”
The comeback kid
For Christian, the journey to this year’s Giro d’Italia has been a long and drawn-out one. It is his second grand tour, after making his debut at the Vuelta a España in 2017. But this Giro almost never was.
After several years of riding at Continental level, the 30-year-old stepped up to Pro Continental at the start of 2017 with Aqua Blue Sport – where he was teammates with Larry Warbasse. With big promises and big ambitions, it appeared that his career had taken the next major step.
It was all going well, and he had signed an extension to his contract with the team for the 2019 season when it crumbled around his ears. With no warning at all, the team folded with immediate effect just days before the Tour of Britain – a race that would have been a good shop window for Christian to show himself off to prospective new teams.
“It was just so out of the blue. There wasn’t any talk about it possibly happening. Normally when a team stops, there’s talk and rumors build about it and then it finally happens,” Christian told VeloNews.
“It was quite surreal. I was supposed to be with the team for the following year as well. It was one of those life-changing moments, in a way. From one moment to the next it was crazy.
“It all happens for a reason, I guess.”
The sudden collapse of the team put Christian at a crossroads where he had to choose whether he wanted to pack it all in or keep going in the hope of securing a new contract. There was no question – he wanted to carry on.
“I never really thought about stopping,” he said. “That year with Aqua Blue was really good and I felt like I’d really progressed and there was more to come. So, I never felt like I was finished.”
Christian returned to the Wiggins Continental team – where he had ridden for two years prior to joining Aqua Blue – and signed for Canyon-DHB p/b Soreen for 2020, but his goal was always to make a return to Pro Continental level – now known as ProTeam.
“I think the hard thing was definitely the uncertainty. With Canyon, nothing was really certain,” he said. “The way the world was it was crazy, and I was just sticking to what I enjoy doing, which is training.
“I think there is a lot more I can take from the day-to-day training rather than just the motivation for racing as well. There’s the day-to-day enjoyment of riding the bike and the feel-good factor you get from it. I guess it’s the best thing to be doing, exercising, in these uncertain times.”
A recommendation from a fellow rider to sport director Sean Yates changed everything for Christian. Despite having a single UCI classified race on his calendar in 2020, his previous results proved enough to secure him a contract with Eolo-Kometa.
“There is more to come,” he said.